As Norris spat her last verse, Queens-based artist Elia Alba called out in support of Norris’s no-holds-barred, rhythmic takedown of the racism that lingers in age-old art institutions and the sexism that pervades rap. When the room quieted, a groovy disco beat from Alba’s own installation—an homage to the late great DJ Larry Levan—filtered into the space. “What’s important for me about Larry Levan, was that the idea of DJ as shaman was really born in his time, the mid-70s,” Alba said of her project. “It was right after the Vietnam War, and New York was financially and emotionally destroyed. But spaces started to pop up where people of color could come together, find a sanctuary, and dance their problems away.”
Levan’s famed party, at the downtown club Paradise Garage, was called “Saturday Mass,” which his followers considered a beatified, mind-bending ritual. In reverence, Alba’s installation, which is the first thing you see upon entering “The Beat Goes On,” resembles a sacred space complete with pews, an altar, and a video of disco dancers adorned with masks simulating Levan’s face. “I think about it even more now, after what happened in Orlando. Those people were in a place of sanctuary, and someone came in and destroyed that sanctuary,” she explains. “At this moment, I feel like it’s time to look at the disco movement as a way to reimagine us coming together and helping each other out.” On Saturdays throughout the run of the show, Alba will reimagine Levan’s storied party in the gallery, inviting anyone and everyone to cut a soul-freeing rug.
Around the corner, coffees were polished off as artist
settled into the dark, carpeted nether regions of the gallery, a space devoted to his “Listening Room.” The glow of his laptop lit the top of his face, as he posited: “If you had 25 minutes to share any sound, any music to a group of people who would listen to every single second, what would you play?” It’s a scenario he’s posed to individuals in the past, asking them to create their own 25-minute compilations.